In the midst of the COP 21 talks in Paris, I walked through Swindon station on a Sunday evening, and was stopped in my tracks by the above banner. Many thoughts ran through my head as I tried to fathom the objective of Birmingham University, in advocating their professors as heroes saving the UK from an energy crisis, so we can all carry on with ‘business as usual’.
I am still unclear if they are aimed at encouraging people to join their courses, or they are being sponsored by an energy company to encourage people to keep their heating turned up whilst the three ‘middle-class scientists’ save the day. Either way, following the catastrophic floods in the UK, we just don’t have time to wait for them to create new technologies in order to avoid another 1-3 degree rise in global warming, or as per the message, run out of energy.
Technology is not the only answer
I am not suggesting they are not part of the solutions that need to be taken to address the impacts modern living is having on the climate. On inspection of their website, it appears that they have been funded and are working on technology to address:
- Energy-efficient cooling systems due to the levels of energy required by refrigeration, air conditioners and data storage
- Thermal storage systems for excess energy that is created
But as stated by Alice Bows Larkin, the Professor of Climate Science & Energy Policy we need to focus on serious energy efficiency and climate conservation first and foremost while these technologies are being developed. Particularly as the rest of the world starts to catch up with similar levels of energy consumption and fossil fuel burning.
Energy efficiency and energy conservation required by all
There have been many schemes to encourage people to insulate their lofts and undertake cavity insulation but these need to go much further according to Alice Bows Larkin. She is suggesting a programme of government-led ‘energy austerity’ by developed countries, because if we don’t we can expect a 4 degree temperature increase. The current government are keen on financial austerity, so why not facilitate one that would actually be beneficial to the environment and provide long-term energy savings for communities. Although, based on the marches and campaigning that I have attended, I think that the term austerity would not necessarily be the best phrase to get buy-in from other social campaign organisations.
In fact, the University of Birmingham missed an opportunity to invite the Swindon passers by the chance to ask them to join in, and join the system change that could limit an energy crisis.
Listen to Alice Bows Larkin Ted Talk
Climate Vs Capitalism
In her book and film ‘ This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein, argues that unlike the 1970’s, environmental challenges like climate change are not being treated like bank bail outs “as crises” due to the rise and power of the free-market state. In it’s drive for growth there is a constant demand for raw finite resources, which is ideologically opposed to the principles of resource conservation required for planet and species protection. This means despite claims that the free-market will solve the problems of our time, we cannot leave our energy crisis and global warming problems in the hands of a financial instrument that is committed to profit.
Global warming heading to unchartered territories
As stated in the Guardian (Wed 20th Damien Carrington) global warming is driving the world’s climate into “uncharted territory”, which requires the urgent implementation of the carbon-cutting pledges made by the world’s governments in Paris in December.
But as demonstrated by the Birmingham Heroes advert there are some fundamental challenges in our human psyche and society that leads to a lack of mass-action to address climate change at a personal level:
- It is not an immediate threat for us to deal with
- It feels like it is too big and something we can’t address on our own- our actions won’t make a difference
- Technology will save us
- We suffer from loss aversion, and fear the changes in our own lives from making ‘sacrifices’
These reasons are explained in George Marshall’s book:
Don’t Even Think About It argues that the answers to these questions do not lie in the things that make us different and drive us apart, but rather in what we all share: how our human brains are wired, our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blindspots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe.
On a personal note, I felt the same way until a couple of years ago. Whilst I was comfortable considering actions that could be taken to address waste, I thought that climate change was too big and far away for me. I also struggled to fathom how, if I didn’t get on an Easy Jet flight, what difference it would make.
But the reality is that if we carry on in this same guise, and the rest of the world joins us in similar levels of energy consumption; we will suddenly have to make drastic changes as life on planet earth will become immeasurably difficult.
Get the Facts
I have gained my understanding from listening to audio books, attending talks and workshops at festivals and hosted by environmental organisations. These videos and books explain the issues far more eloquently than I can:
Listen to Alice Bows Larkin Ted Talk
Naomi Klein This Changes Everything
George Marshall Don’t Even Think About It